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Oh, Danny Boy: We profile new UUP MP Danny Kinahan

Published 23/05/2015

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He is a first cousin of singer Chris de Burgh, spent eight years in the Army and supports same-sex marriage. Is Danny Kinahan the most unusual UUP MP ever, asks Alex Kane.

Danny Kinahan  "entered politics" in 2005, when the Ulster Unionist Party was at its lowest ebb. In that year's general election they were reduced to one MP and the general view of the public and pundits alike was that the party was on a downward spiral from which it wouldn't recover.

Yet, two weeks ago, Kinahan became the first Ulster Unionist MP elected since 2005, toppling the DUP's William McCrea after a very tight contest for South Antrim. When asked if his victory - along with that of Tom Elliott in Fermanagh/South Tyrone - represented a genuine turning of the corner for the UUP, he replies: "Yes, well around the corner and on down the straight."

At the beginning of April, two senior DUP members in South Antrim told me that they thought Kinahan "has a reasonably good chance of taking the seat. He is your classic liberal, Big House unionist and probably has appeal to Alliance types and to people who haven't voted for a few years. His fluffiness will help him with some soft unionists. Willy is seen as a bit old school".

Those comments were intended as jibes - but they are jibes that Kinahan dismisses. "I would rather be seen as progressive, someone who wants to adapt unionism to the modern environment, rather than cling doggedly to the past. I want unionism prepared for the future. Anyway, I am not fiscally, or socially, a liberal."

And Big House unionist? "I recognise the wonderful fate of my upbringing and want to use all that experience to help everyone to aspire for whatever they want to achieve - maybe even to their own Big House!"

Kinahan is regarded within the UUP as someone who gets on with things - someone who prefers an easily-understood plan, rather than someone who sits around talking about what should be done.

A constituency colleague says: "We won South Antrim, because Danny believed we could win it. It's probably something to do with his Army background because he ensured that we had a brilliant on-the-ground campaign and an effective chain of command.

"The party needs to look at what we did here and learn lessons. Tom's battle was unionism against Sinn Fein. Danny's battle was unionist against unionist and that has been a losing one for us for over a decade. He changed that."

Daniel 'Danny' de Burgh Kinahan was born in the Royal Victoria Hospital on April 14, 1958. His father, Sir Robert George Caldwell 'Robin' Kinahan, was a former Lord Mayor of Belfast and, briefly, Stormont MP for Belfast Clifton, and his mother, Coralie de Burgh (Chris de Burgh is his cousin), was an artist and philanthropist "who didn't understand the word can't and didn't allow her children - three girls and two boys - to sit and do nothing".

In 1963 - having sold off the family business of Lyle and Kinahan (wine and spirit merchants) - his father bought Castle Upton, in Templepatrick, and along with his wife, spent years "restoring it from an almost ruinous state".

Kinahan, who now lives there, has previously described it as "an ongoing process of repair and care". When the five-year-old Danny first saw Castle Upton, he was afraid to get out of the car because he thought the place was haunted.

He was educated at Craigflower Preparatory School for Boys (Scotland), Stowe School, an independent boarding school in Buckinghamshire, and Edinburgh University, where he graduated with a BA in Commerce.

After training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, he was in the Army for eight years in the Blues and Royals Regiment, rising to the rank of captain and serving in the Falklands, Cyprus, Germany, Northern Ireland and Windsor. He was also a TA squadron leader in the North Irish Horse and is now their Honorary Colonel.

Before being co-opted in 2009 to replace David Burnside as an MLA, he worked for Christies as their representative and valuer for Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"I was essentially their man in Ireland, dealing with everything from silver to paintings to antique furniture and sending the items over to them if I thought they were of sufficient value. I still watch the Antiques Roadshow to put my knowledge to the test," he says.

He married his wife, Anna, 23 years ago. "We met on holiday in Zimbabwe. I was a very last-minute member of the group, who went there as someone else had dropped out.

"My dad had just had a stroke, so I wasn't going to go, but my sister and brother told me they had everything under control. Anna is the person who gave me my family and my life and she has such a sense of purpose." They now have four children, Eliza, Tara, Hugo and Mia, "two at university, one heading that direction this year and one doing A-Levels".

The decision to get involved in party politics was hardly a surprise. "I was born UUP. My father was a politician. My mother almost had a greater interest than he did."

And it was always going to be the UUP for him - even though the party seemed weak in South Antrim and everywhere else as well, at the time he joined, in 2005.

When asked to set out the differences between the DUP and UUP, he is very clear: "It's destructive politics vs constructive politics. The DUP put the party first, while the UUP put the country first. It's DUP Ulster nationalists vs the Ulster Unionists being part of and playing their part in the United Kingdom. The DUP is about unionists for one faith, while the UUP is about unionists of all faiths and cultures."

He failed to get elected to the Assembly in 2007, coming in behind the former MP David Burnside. But after co-option in 2009, he held the seat comfortably in 2011 and was always the obvious choice as the general election candidate.

Some people thought he had jeopardised his chances when he was the only UUP MLA to support equal marriage during an Assembly debate a few weeks before the election, but it was a risk he was prepared to take.

A fellow UUP MLA noted: "Danny was prepared to take his stand and vote as he wanted to - it was a free vote. And fair play to Danny, he doesn't do ambiguity and he must have know that some political opponents would try and use it against him."

Explaining his vote, Kinahan said: "At school and in the Army, I believed - and I'm ashamed to say joked, carried by the flow - that gay, lesbian and such matters were wrong and could be laughed at. I'd never really sat down and thought about it.

"I want a society here in Northern Ireland where no one is made to feel a second-class citizen to any extent and certainly not due to sexual definition. I want no discrimination whatsoever on account of religious belief, or sexual orientation."

Away from politics, his passions are his family, his home, the environment, sport, history, reading and music - "although I wish I could play a musical instrument, too. And I enjoy nothing more than tidying up a fallen tree, especially splitting wood with an axe and working with a chainsaw".

When asked if he thinks there will come a time when the institutions settle down and the parties commit to genuine co-operation he replies: "Yes, but only when we return to the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, when the DUP and Sinn Fein are replaced by the UUP and SDLP and when we see leadership towards the centre."

Danny Kinahan is now a key player in the UUP.

In terms of the party needing to prove that the election result wasn't just a blip, that's probably a very good thing.

He reaches an audience others cannot - the very audience the UUP needs to win over.

A life so far

He was the first UUP MP elected since 2005

His father was a former Lord Mayor of Belfast and Stormont MP

He is a cousin of singer Chris de Burgh

He has been a soldier and he's an expert on antiques

When he first saw Castle Upton, he thought it was haunted

He is married to Anna and they have four children

Belfast Telegraph

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